GILFORD — While waiting for Horizons Center counselor Jacqui Abikoff earlier this week, the six current participants in Belknap County's Recovery Court program sat around a large table in a too small room and bantered.
Watching and listening to these six people — three men and three women — one conjures up a picture of the classic NBC sit-com "Friends".
But while they are friends, this is no sit-com. Heroin addicts all, the six have all been in the program for varying amounts of time but on this day, all are clean and sober. They willingly provided urine samples to prove it.
While Recovery Court participants and team members meet in Judge Jim Carroll's 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division court room every Tuesday at noon, much of the hard work is done behind these traditionally closed doors. This is the one piece of Recovery Court that cannot be skipped.
This is when they sit down and discuss how they feel, what they are thinking, and what daily obstacles they have to staying clean. Three counselors including Abikoff keep the discussions on track, because like most discussions among friends, their topics and comments tend to wander. Unlike a sit-com, their off-topic comments can cut and burn with brutal honesty.
The common thread in this group is honesty. It's actually one of the only things, short of a major crime, that can get someone expelled from Recovery Court with a one-way, non-stop ticket back to jail — handcuffs and all.
"We see it as a success if someone slips and comes immediately to get help," said one.
All admitted to lying while they were using — especially to the people they loved and to themselves. Most admitted to stealing from friends and family. All said they recognized the moment when they realized they were "junkies".
"It was easier to get high than to get healthy," said one of the women.
"When you're wrapped up and in that life style, it's your normal," said one. "When I got clean I remembered some of the things I did and I said, 'That's crazy.'"
When Abikoff asked if they felt they were still the face of addiction — all said no. "We're all not using."
They discussed the common perceptions of junkies. Many said society stigmatizes heroin addicts as dirty, foul-smelling people who stand around on street corners. They perceive them as thieves, manipulators, liars and think they not to be trusted.
One person challenged this view. He also said most of the people who are addicts that he knows are "regular hard-working people who ran into a problem."
"We're sick people," he said, nodding when Abikoff said the brain is like any other organ in the human body — over time it can heal.
One participant said he recently went to an AA meeting on the Seacoast and met a man who was celebrating 36 years of sobriety. Because most recovering addicts tend not to disclose their past because of possible negative repercussions, he said the faces of addicts are rarely seen unless it's mugshots.
"You don't see too many front page articles headlined 'Man Celebrates 36 Years Sober." he said.
He talked about one of his relatives. He said his relative drinks, takes Percocet and smokes weed but insists he's not a junkie because "I don't stick no needles in my arm."
One spoke about his time in jail. He said the word inside jail is that Recovery Court "just sets you up to fail" because it's nearly impossible to meet all the demands. He said he chose the program despite the naysayers because he knew if he went back to the world he was in he'd just start using again. When asked where he'd be right now if he hadn't entered the program, he replied he would probably be dead.
Most will attend the upcoming funeral of a friend who died recently of an overdose.
One of the biggest component, and the one most important to this group other than sobriety, is their community service. While the minimum required community for the program is 250 service hours, most of this group is well beyond that. Two of the groups members even have an ongoing rivalry about who can perform the most community service. Both are well over the minimum requirements.
"When we were using, we took something from our community," said one. "We want to give that back and have society trust us again."
Between the six of them, they have painted the fence around the Bayside Cemetery in Laconia, done all the mulching at Veterans Park and the Circuit Court House, and helped the Police Department at National Night Out.
One man works at a senior home where he helps cook. He started as a maintenance volunteer. All of them have helped some area elderly people move into homes.
Others have volunteered at the senior center, the family resource center, and the Salvation Army with one of them becoming cashier. Some are active in Stand Up Laconia.
All of them said they are busier than they ever were but in a productive way that makes them feel good. "Being busy but being in control," said one.
"We are earning the respect of our higher ups," said another, quoting Judge Carroll when he says that if you respect them (society), they'll respect you.
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